May, 2013:

Carten100 (+6)

Carten100Just over a week ago I replied to an email from Tredz bikes as part of a competition to win a place in the Carten100 bike ride. For those who don’t know and too lazy to click the link this is a 100 mile bike ride from Cardiff to Tenby. That’s quite a long way.

I didn’t think much of it, after all what were the odds on winning, and then when Palace clinched a place in the play-offs I booked a ticket for the home leg without a second thought to the competition. Then a few days before the ride I got an email saying I’d won (gulp) by which point there were a number of things against me.

  1. I wasn’t getting back from London until about 2am the night before a 7:30 start.
  2. My bike was still in for repair and I’d again have to prep my turbo bike – by this point safely back on the trainer
  3. The weather forecast was grim, the worst of it being a 25mph headwind most of the day the whole way
  4. 100 miles had been extended to 106 following police advice

I rushed home from work on the Friday and spent some time swapping bike cassettes again regretting doing it up so tight a few days before – was not being able to remove that really a viable excuse? Not really but I must admit my heart sank a little when the wrench finally moved. An hour later I was in the car to London, thankfully in the passenger seat and over 4 hours, a 0-0 draw later I’d decided that I probably couldn’t do the ride. Crossing the Severn Bridge at about 1am I’d pretty much written it off and although K had got all my kit and nutrition ready I climbed into bed, decided I wasn’t doing it and didn’t set an alarm.

This decision meant I slept well but woke up just before 6. I sat awake for 15 minutes when I realised that I’d regret passing up the opportunity and proceeded to get myself ready. Kit ready, nutrition sorted I got in the car and while K drove I downed a can of Red Bull and a banana. Arriving at the Cardiff City Stadium start location riders were already leaving and I joined the queue. I spoke to Peter, the organiser of the event, and he handed my my race number and bike jersey and shortly after I was ready to go. One of the last to leave I reasoned that would mean I’d have groups to pick up all the way to the first stop at Margam where a proper breakfast would be provided.

I said to myself that if nothing else I’d won a free jersey but inside knew fully that I’d be far too stubborn not to go the whole way unless it was physically impossible. Mentally I told myself to break the trip up into 3 separate legs of 30 miles and then do the short bit to Tenby to finish. Easy…..

I quickly left behind the group I departed with as we went up Cowbridge Road but found I kept getting caught at red lights just as the group ahead moved through. The first climb on the A48 I span my way past a few riders, some of who were pushing already. Couldn’t help but feel it was going to be a long day for those riders but massive respect to them if they finished.

Along the undulating A48 before passing my office in Bridgend when the first of the rain started and on through Pyle and then Margam. Closing on the back of a group as we crossed over the M4 I think I missed the start of the sprint as the riders ahead suddenly surged away. obviously they’d picked up the scent of sizzling bacon at the first stop. Here the Express Cafe served up one of the nicest sausage baps I’ve ever eaten and having been stopped for about 30 minutes I set off looking forward to passing the half way point and getting onto the part of the ride on roads I don’t actually know. I often find it easier to ride on new roads as looking around makes the time go quicker.

Navigating through Port Talbot was a bit tricky due to traffic and lights so a mini peleton of about 30 bikes formed but once onto the bypass we were away and I once more left the group behind. It was shortly after as we crossed at Briton Ferry that the wind really started to take effect and then for the first and only time on the ride I gave up my triathlon instincts and joined a line of bikes to get some protection from the wind. I probably stayed in that group for 5 or so miles before it broke up in traffic through Swansea and we joined the Clyne Gardens cycle track which due to the tree lined nature offered a nice respite from the ever increasing breeze but when we crossed into Llanelli the toughest part of the ride was about to begin.

Progress was tough here and I found myself working my way past many small groups working hard to shield themselves from the wind but when we went onto the undulating coastal path, normally a very pleasant riding experience, the elements really did make life difficult. Sections of the path were covered in sand which was both slippery and energy sapping and there was sand battering your face as well as the wind slowing progress to a crawl. Going uphill was actually easier than the flat with the hills themselves shielding the wind. Having navigated through this area the next break couldn’t come soon enough and the Ship Aground pub was a welcome sight for the next official stop at around 62 miles. Drinking a can of coke and using the facilities I must admit I didn’t rush to get back out there but when I did I felt newly invigorated and confident I had the remaining 44 miles left in my legs.

The first decent climb in a while took as past Kidwelly before descending into Carmarthen where riders would get to experience the new longer route. Leaving the A40 at Johnstown to follow the NCR4 path up a very steep hill where numerous riders were pushing I soon found myself in my own spring classic as I rode on some bumpy roads with no sign of anyone in front or behind and it stayed that way for most of the new route until my conservative descending allowed a few people to catch up as I joined the back of a lead group. I took advantage of a short break at a service station on the A40 just outside St Clears leaving myself with two lots of around 20K to the finish. Once more leaving the A40 we picked up the new route to Tavernspite and the final stop but it was clear that many riders didn’t fancy the new route and continued on the A40, I learnt later that many more did the same at Carmarthen doing significantly less distance than the majority.

I’ll take this moment to have a short rant – I understand conditions were tough, and the route was changed at short notice but when you’re in an organised event, carrying a number and wearing the colours of that event you should abide by the rules. The organisers were clear that the two diversions were in place on police advice and I would hate to think that the event could be in jeopardy because some selfish riders didn’t fancy doing the full ride. Also I should add that the number of idiots I witnessed running red lights made my blood boil – one accident would be enough to ruin the event. If you lose your group another will be along shortly. Rant over.

There was a long drag to the final stop and when a Cardiff Tri member went past me on aerobars it was quite satisfying to reel him back in nearer the top of the climb. A glass of lemonade later it was time to finish this thing and knowing there would be far more down than up was a great feeling. I did the final 20K in 50 minutes and the adrenaline rush was palpable turning onto the A478 and seeing a “Tenby 5 miles” sign. Knowing this stretch well I was aware that this was still an undulating road but I worked hard on the uphills and for the first time in a while rode the downhills rather than free-wheeling. It was nice to have small groups cheering during the whole ride but as they do with Ironman Wales the locals of Tenby and New Hedges really get behind these events and it was great to be cheered towards the finish especially when entering the town square and under the finish line.

K was there to meet me right at the finish and while I was out on the road had booked us into a B&B and reserved us a table in the popular Blue Ball restaurant. Not having to head straight home was something of a relief. I didn’t wear my finishers shirt to the meal but the weary look in my eyes and the band on my wrist ensured that everyone knew I was one of that hardy band of men (and women) who had left Cardiff early that morning. Walking around Tenby afterwards it wasn’t hard to identify your fellow Carteners and while no words needed to be exchanged the mutual respect was told in a single knowing nod of the head. Anyone who’s done the Carten has to be given a lot of credit, those who did Carten 2013 have earned just a little bit more.

I can confidently say that 112 miles in Nottingham in 8 weeks time will not be any tougher.

First ever sportive – Sarn Helen

My coach had decided that I should do a couple of local sportives if they fitted around my plan to get some practice at having an organised ride with fuelling stops.  So I entered two, Sarn Helen Sportif and between the two Outlaws an Evans Cycles Cotswold ride.

In the week leading up to my ride Bike Science contacted me and ultimately, my AiR frame, which has had an issue with the rivets in the braze-on dérailleur hanger DSCF1519where the rivet had popped, needed to go back to Boardman and I was asked to avoid riding it.  They’d tried a repair on it but ultimately the rivet wasn’t holding and the flex was causing too many issues with the dérailleur making it impossible to avoid chain rub at the high and low gear extremities.  I say high, this was purely theoretical as I rarely get there in a ride!!!  So the bike has been stripped down and sent back to Boardman under the frame warranty.  So far no complaints with the service, I’m just hoping it gets turned around quickly.

Biggest snag was that having entered the sportive already I faced having to do it on my turbo bike which hasn’t been removed from the trainer in 9 months since I got the AiR.  So Saturday morning, after my long run (reverse of last weeks 17K done 4 minutes quicker – fresh legs make a world of difference) I set about seeing how race ready the bike was.  First job was getting it off the trainer which seemed to have seized but once that was done I set about the bike itself.  Gears seemed fine but the main job was moving the 8 speed cassette from the turbo wheel onto my normal riding wheels – either way I had the change the cassette or the tyre and I’d rather use the wheel I normal use.

First problem then was the rear hanger wasn’t pulling back and so when free wheeling in low gears there was no tension on the chain and it would fall off, that problem solved the rear brake was jamming (not been used in a while) but again resolved easily enough.  Ultimately it came down to me not really having any excuse so on Saturday afternoon after watching Palace clinch a play-off place we set off the the in-laws who live 2 miles from the event start.

This was going to be a slightly shorter ride than my longest but with comfortably the most climbing and I set off taking it fairly easy having no real knowledge of the big climbs on the route.  The ride heads up along the Neath valley before the first climb along the Sarn Helen road towards the “Devil’s Elbow” – this was pretty tough but more that it was relentless than any really steep sections.  A quick water stop at the top and I went over the other side.  The Elbow itself is the tough climb but we were going down it and my usual nervous descending skills came to the fore.  A group were following me but seemed happy to stay there but two people came by us all doing what must have been 70kph on a narrow bumpy surface.  Rather them than me.

Shortly afterwards I managed a wrong turning near Sennybridge and ended up doing 3 miles uphill before realising my error – I turned around and back tracked to the proper location – picking up the road I was supposed to be on further along felt like cheating. I’d managed to do 6 miles extra and lost myself 28 minutes.  Looking at the results that time alone actually cost me 20 places and I would have been top third.

Back on the right route we faced a head wind all the way to Llandovery, on what should have been the easy section of the ride, so much so that on a long descent it felt like riding into a wall and I was barely able to creep over 32kph.  Brief stop to Llandovery and we set up towards the Black Mountain.  My legs were already tired at this point and I ended up following a couple from Celtic Tri for 30 minutes or so (always at a tri legal distance I might add) before going past them as soon as the slopes started.  I quickly found myself in the easiest gear (one advantage of the triple I suppose) and made my way slowly up but with the cadence barely hovering around 60.  Not knowing the road well (I think I’ve driven it once many moons ago) I just didn’t know where the top was and every time you’d hit a switchback you’d realise there was another tier above.  Got up there eventually to find an abandoned drink station with just some large drink containers and so rolled over and down.  The descent was nice enough but as usual I’m never going to make up the time some daredevil riders might.

Home straight now and we rode down the Swansea valley before a final climb up and over Neath and back to Skewen.  Two miles from the finish I lost a cap from my tool bottle holder and stopped to retrieve it – tired legs cause me to unclip a fraction late and I fell in the road banging my elbow.  Pride hurt more than anything and the following car, who was thankfully a fair way back, seemed pretty confused by what had happened.

A decent event, lacking in a few marshalls, but the usual camaraderie was there even if I did spend large sections without seeing another cyclist.  With my wrong turning I ended up beating my longest ride PB, albeit at a much lower average speed, but I did take my climbing PB from 944m to 1639m which I make over a mile up.  No wonder it hurt – I guess that makes it more climbing for the distance than IM Wales?